Future-proofing EV infrastructure

Andrew Toher, Head of Customer insights Enel X UK

Conceptually, charging an electric vehicle is a simple task. In reality, providing the infrastructure to support e-mobility is giving energy managers a lot to think about. However, with the right approach, businesses can optimise their investment in charging infrastructure so that it works for them and their end users.

The business and legislative drivers

Transport accounts for around a quarter of global emissions. Consequently, many businesses are looking to lead on climate change action by decarbonising their vehicle fleets and boosting EV use by providing workplace charging.

The UK has passed legislation to ban sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035 at the latest, and is simultaneously looking to accelerate the EV market by providing attractive tax-breaks to business users. Meanwhile, some businesses are looking to lead on zero-emission transport as a tangible demonstration of their commitment to combat climate change. For delivery firms and logistics companies where transport is the core of the business, those who can offer a net-zero service first will attract new customers.

This potent combination of government legislation, financial incentives and user demand is compelling businesses to act on EV charging. For businesses looking to invest in on-premise EV charging, it’s important that they consider the big-picture view of their energy needs first, and consider both operational and procurement issues before rushing into projects.

Some of the key issues include: site capacity and load; choosing the right charger; taking a modular approach to design; identifying grid balancing opportunities and signing up to the right supply contract.

Site capacity and load

For many sites, considering the impact of adding EV charging stations on site power load is fundamental to the feasibility and cost of the project. While a basic parking facility might have a power load of just 5-10kW for features like lighting and barrier entry, adding a single rapid charging unit will increase the peak power load for that facility by 5-10x. Providing workplace charging for EV fleets introduces a key challenge – how to manage overall power loads at facilities.

Large sites with half-hourly billing will have agreed a maximum import capacity (MIC) with their supplier. Capacity needs to be in line with demand, and exceeding the MIC incurs financial penalties. There may also be a risk of exceeding total supply capacity by using EV charging stations while operating normal electrical loads in buildings.

The Distribution Network Operator will be involved in looking at worst-case power load scenarios to assess whether network upgrades are required, which can take many weeks and require significant investment if the business has to pay to reinforce the network. The extent to which the customer has to pay for these connection costs is under review as part of the Access and Forward Looking Charges Review, and could be more onerous in future.

By monitoring the building’s energy consumption, the charging process can be remotely managed in real-time while making the most of the existing available power. This approach can avoid the need for expensive network reinforcement, enabling optimal use of charging infrastructure while minimising costs through dynamic load balancing.

Specifying chargers

Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, it is necessary to consider the needs of users and the potential business models when specifying charging solutions for public and private infrastructure. For example, a 50kW fast charger may be too fast for a shopping centre or a business park, where visitors are expected to stay on-site for a number of hours.

A retail park, pub or motorway service station will have different business requirements that are met by different charging solutions. Some operators of public charging infrastructure earn revenue by renting parking spaces from the site owners for a fixed annual fee, while the site owner benefits from an additional customer amenity and, in some cases, a share of the charging revenue. Optimising revenue and return on investment requires careful choice of the charging solution to offer, i.e. the right charging solution for the right setting to achieve best customer experience and best return on investment.

Modular planning

Balancing the needs of users with a design that satisifies those needs will be challenging for any business committing to providing EV infrastructure for employees. There are many variables at play, including the rate of uptake of e-mobility, EV battery range, technology advances and how drivers choose to charge their cars; whether keeping them ‘topped up’ or recharging from empty.

Taking a modular approach to specifying on-premises EV charging reduces investment risk. By planning for future expansion while implementing what’s needed today, businesses can review usage patterns and power loads and base their decisions about future needs on real data.

Supply contracts

Another consideration for businesses is whether they are signed up to the most appropriate supply for EV charging. Some energy suppliers are introducing innovative tariffs that are highly suited to smart EV charging. However, it may become more difficult to realise benefits from off-peak time-of-use tariffs as EV charging becomes the norm.

Beyond simply agreeing to a bespoke tariff for energy use, businesses can also choose how their power is generated; use of ‘green’ tariffs; the pricing/payment/billing model; financing for the new assets; onsite/offsite generation; resilience measures; the use of energy management technology and their own distributed assets for generation, demand response or energy storage.

Grid balancing

Whether businesses can usefully use their EV fleets as energy storage assets or virtual power plants to help balance the grid is still some way off. Using EVs for energy storage requires vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology and the ability to discharge the car’s battery to the grid. Despite successful proof-of-concept V2G trials, there are some practical barriers to implementing V2G today, foremost of which is limited EV manufacturer support for bidirectional charging.

Planning for the future

Workplace EV charging infrastructure will become prevalent in the coming years, as businesses look to enable e-mobility. By taking a holistic view of energy use and planning for the future, businesses can embrace zero-emission transport without later regretting investment decisions they might make today.